Beyond the Glitz: The Hidden Dangers of Professional Wrestling
What follows are several incidents where wrestlers were blinded in or out of the ring!
“The eyes are the windows to the soul.”– French poet, Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas.
Bruno Sammartino and Pedro Morales
During the match, the evil Mr. Fuji threw salt into the eyes of the living legend, Bruno Sammartino.
Blinded Chaos Leads To Betrayal
A now “blind” Bruno began to ostensibly bombard Fuji with a few haymakers; unfortunately, his actual target was his partner Morales.
To compound matters, the infamous Professor similarly blinded Pedro, which led to the two temporarily sightless babyfaces slugging it out in the middle of the ring.
This created heat between the two heroes, each blaming the other for the incident.
Epic Encounter: The Legendary Showdown at Shea
Bruno and Pedro’s adversity quickly became Vince McMahon Sr.’s opportunity, as the two legends would later face each other on September 30th, 1972, at the inaugural Showdown at Shea.
Before an outdoor crowd of 22,508 (held down by inclement weather), these two wrestling treasures battled to a 76-minute draw.
“I Will Break These Ties That Bind“ – Superstar Billy Graham Vs Kevin Sullivan and His Army of Darkness
Superstar Billy Graham reached the pinnacle of professional wrestling on April 30th, 1977, when he did the unthinkable and pinned the Living Legend, Bruno Sammartino, to capture the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) Championship, ending Bruno’s second impressive reign at 1,237 days.
Graham was the first non-transitional heel champion in the history of the promotion. Billy would hold the title for nearly ten months, selling out Madison Square Garden numerous times and feuding with Sammartino, Dusty Rhodes, Mil Máscaras, High Chief Peter Maivia, and Ivan Putski.
Billy would eventually lose the title on February 20th, 1978, to Bob Backlund, in front of another sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden.
Superstar eventually left the territory and spent time in several other promotions before getting another run with Backlund in 1982.
The Infamous Army of Darkness: Wrestling’s Notorious Faction
Then, in 1984, a bald and bit less muscular Billy Graham resurfaced in the legendary Eddie Graham-owned Florida territory, Championship Wrestling from Florida, where he had previously achieved significant success.
Graham joined Kevin Sullivan’s Army of Darkness (which in our minds will always be “Ahmy of Dahkness,” pronounced in Sullivan’s inimitable Boston accent).
The notorious group included Sullivan, Oliver Humperdinck, The Fallen Angel (Nancy Toffoloni, who later became Nancy Sullivan, and ultimately Nancy Benoit), and The Lock (who was portrayed by Winifred Childree, who most of us wrestling fans know as Winona Little Heart).
During a televised match on the Championship Wrestling from Florida program, Sullivan (who was teaming with Graham) grabbed The Lock by her locks and slapped her down to the mat. Sullivan assisted The Lock in getting back to her feet (with a handful of Lock’s locks) and attempted to deliver another devastating slap, which Graham thwarted.
While Graham and Sullivan were arguing, the Superstar received a chair shot from behind, courtesy of Humperdinck.
Sullivan then repeatedly struck Graham in the eye, creating, in the words of the dean of wrestling announcers, Gordon Solie, who was calling this match, “The Crimson Mask.”
Sullivan and Humperdinck proceeded to perform a public lynching, using a strap and the middle ring rope; fortunately, the battered and bloodied Superstar was rescued by Mike Graham.
What followed the next week was arguably one of the best and most compelling segments in the history of televised wrestling.
Menacing Duo: Sullivan and Humperdinck’s Sinister Agenda
Sullivan and Humperdinck were interviewed by Barbara Clary, with Sullivan concluding the interview with the comment, “I made sure that Superstar would be gone from the face of the Earth for good!”
Clary then directed the two men to an audiotape she had received that was allegedly from Superstar Billy Graham.
A remote, barren and desolate scene was next. Then, finally, Superstar Billy Graham was shown, laying shackled and sporting a large bandage over his injured eye.
This very impactful visual could easily have stood on its own merits; however, it was accompanied by one of the most riveting promos in the annals of professional wrestling.
Superstar Billy Graham’s Defiant Message from the Desert
Graham stated, “First of all, Kevin Sullivan, I want you to know I am alive and well. I am not in an Egyptian tomb in Cairo. I am not dwelling with the headhunters on the Amazon River. I’m not in the jungles of Borneo and Sumatra with the prehistoric pygmies. Nor am I with the holy men in Calcutta and Tibet.
“Just as Jesus Christ, the son of the Living God, went into the deserts of Judea to fast for forty days and forty nights to gain strength to fight the Devil, I, being a mere mortal, have also gone into the desert. Shackled to this river bottom, to cleanse my soul and spirit and gain the power I need to defeat you and Abudadein to rid myself of every evil thing that you represent.
“Out of the silt, the dirt, the slime, the mire, and the disgusting, putrid, sick, and inhumane acts that make you what you are, Kevin Sullivan.”
The Unpredictable Departure of Superstar Billy Graham
“In the moment that I know that I have been released from the powers of darkness and all the evil spirits have left me, I will break these chains that bind me, tear loose these bonds that hold me. I will rise up from this river bottom grave and be free, free at last.
“And I will march, crawl, swim if I have to until I find you. And I will find you, no matter how long it takes, for there’s no place you can hide, there’s nowhere for you to run. Nothing and no one can save you now. I AM coming back.”
Superstar Billy Graham DID come back as things can only happen in the zany world of professional wrestling.
And just as quickly, he left to work for Jim Crockett Promotions.
“The Fireball“ – Ronnie Garvin and Barry Windham Vs The Midnight Express
On the February 21st, 1987, episode of NWA Championship Wrestling, The Midnight Express challenged the defending NWA United States Tag Team Champions, the team of Ronnie Garvin and Barry Windham.
The Express was managed by the loquacious, enthusiastic, and equally despicable Jim Cornette.
The match was highly competitive, as were so many during the days of Jim Crockett Promotions.
The Referee’s Mysterious Knockout in the Chaos
After several excellent back and forth exchanges, Ronnie Garvin made his way to the heels’ corner and administered a double noggin’ knocker to Dennis Condrey and “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton. Garvin then delivered a backdrop to Condrey, followed by the legendary “Hands of Stone” right fist into Dennis’ dome. Garvin covered Condrey for the pin, which was broken up by an Eaton elbow drop.
During the ensuing schmoz, the referee was knocked out of the ring.
(Author’s note: I watched this several times and still cannot determine what caused this to happen, as the ref was barely touched. I will attribute this to “centrifugal force” without any logical explanation!)
Playing With Fire: The Explosive Turn of Gorgeous Jimmy Garvin
With the referee out of commission, Jim Cornette entered the ring and proceeded to throw a fireball directly into the face of Ronny Garvin. Chaos ensued, with run-ins from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express.
Most notable was the appearance of Garvin’s “brother” Jimmy, one of the promotion’s top heels at the time. Jimmy assisted his injured brother to the babyface locker room, then made a beeline for the heel dressing room, finding and pummeling Cornette.
Like a hockey fight, this was quickly broken up, first by the heels, then promptly joined by the babyfaces.
Jimmy Garvin’s Stunning Babyface Turn
What was the result? A Gorgeous Jimmy Garvin babyface turn, and fines to the Midnight Express and Cornette. Oh, and a suspension for Cornette, which by some odd coincidence occurred right after his wedding and allowed him to enjoy an extended honeymoon in Hawaii. Funny how these things work out, right?
Upon Cornette’s return from his “suspension,” he and Garvin squared off in several steel cage matches around the Mid-Atlantic territory and drew massive gates.
“A Shot of Arrogance“ – Jake The Snake Roberts Vs Rick Martel
There are many more angles like this, perhaps enough to fill a book.
One immediately comes to mind is Jake “The Snake” Roberts, blinded by a shot of Rick Martel‘s Arrogance cologne, resulting in their surreal Blindfold Match at WrestleMania 7.
For the rest of this story, we will shift from “work” (scripted) to “shoot” mode and mention a couple of wrestling greats that were legitimately vision impaired.
“A Lack of Vision“ – Stan Hansen Wallops Vader in Japan
Stan Hansen was arguably the “Mr. Magoo” of professional wrestling.
He was nearsighted to the point of legal blindness.
For the most part, Hansen worked close to his opponent to compensate for his lack of vision.
However, Hansen could arguably have been called a farmer, as he threw enough potatoes to create a large crop. Take for instance the time he knocked Big Van Vader’s eye out (for real) in Tokyo, Japan, in 1990!
Seeing Stars: Stan Hansen’s Humorous Perspective on Battling Vader
“That was a brutal match,” Stan Hansen later remembered.
“Blind as I am – you know, I wear pretty thick glasses, I can see [only] about to the end of my hand!” Hansen continued while chuckling to himself.
“[When I hit Vader], I was close enough that I could see something was wrong, but until I saw him later, I didn’t really [realize the extent of it].
“I was seeing so many stars from him hitting me that I wasn’t really concerned about his eye!” (laughs)
Vader’s Gritty Resolve to Finish the Match
Vader would later share his thoughts on having his eye pop out during his match against Stan Hansen.
“A lot of people said, ‘You’re crazy, you should have stepped out of the ring…’ But it never crossed my mind not to [finish the match],” Vader would remember.
“When I was approaching the ring – Stan had entered the ring first – I took a step forward, and [Stan] pushed [Tiger] Hatori aside, took his cowbell and swung over the top of the rope, and hit me in the forehead with it and busted my nose. It just shattered.
“Man, I couldn’t see, my ears were ringing, and blood was pouring out.”
The Eye-Popping Encounter with Stan Hansen Continues
Vader continued, “When I finally came to, probably about forty-five seconds later, I entered the ring, walked up to Stan, and hit a big right, right in the ear. And that created the exchange that resulted in Stan thumbing me in the eye.
“So, the big fights on, and I’m punching him, I’m drilling him, bam, bam, bam, bam!”
“He got back in the corner, and I was looking for the right and forgot he was a leftie – he went ‘wham, wham,’ and about the third one, my eye literally came out of the socket, hanging out. The sucker popped right out of my cheek. You couldn’t see it because the mask was on.”
“So I went, ‘Stan, you popped my eye out, you ************!’ And I pushed it back in.”
“Everything happened so quickly,” Vader admitted. “It popped out; I shoved it back in and kept fighting!”
Just think, if Stan were to wrestle John Cena, and Cena gave him the “You Can’t See Me,” it would probably be true.
For more on Stan Hansen’s legendary gloms, we direct you to Stan Hansen: The King of Stiff Gets A Piece of His Own Medicine on this website.
The Eye Injury of PCO
Born Carl Joseph Yvon Ouellet, but known to wrestling fans as Carl Ouellet, Quebecer Pierre, Jean-Pierre LaFitte, and most recently PCO (Pierre Carl Ouellet or Perfect Creation One).
Ouellet started his wrestling career in 1987 and has worked for WWE, WCW, TNA, ECW, and many independent promotions worldwide.
Ouellet has wrestled his entire career with a ‘non-working’ patch on his right eye, necessitated by an injury he suffered at age 12.
PCO Recounts Traumatic Childhood Incident
In a 2020 interview with Chris Van Vliet, PCO opened up about this traumatic incident.
“It was really a big drama in my family. We were a bunch of kids at 12 shooting ourselves in the legs.”
“When we didn’t have any more pellets, we put those colored pick-up sticks in, and then it [went through my eye.]”
“I was hiding behind the counter in the kitchen and my friends were shooting our legs below the knees to make sure that nothing would happen. I think we were thinking that I was thinking that for, for one.”
“But anyway, I was on my knees, and the [pick-up stick] went straight through the skin in my eye. [When that happened], I pulled it back out.”
Ouellet Continues The Horrific Story
“Don’t ever do that. If something happens to your eye, put a cup over it and leave it there; you don’t touch it. You go to the hospital where they do the surgery and remove it very gently without you causing more damage.”
“When I pulled it, I pulled my entire eye out. It was by reflex, and it was bleeding all over the place.”
“I took a small towel, wet it, and then told my friend, ‘I think I’m blind. I’m not lying!'”
“I was looking in the mirror saying, ‘I Can’t see, I can’t see, I’m blind!’ I was going crazy.”
“I called my mother. There was no cell. My mom was working. My uncle got me, and then I fell unconscious on the way to the hospital.”
“When I woke up, I had already spent four hours on the table in surgery. I woke up, and the whole family was around.”
PCO: The Resilient Journey of a Wrestling Legend
Fortunately, this injury never stopped him from having a respectable wrestling career spanning five decades.
Ironically, Ouellet saved his best for last.
After retiring in 2011, Ouellet returned to wrestling in 2016 and joined the Ring Of Honor promotion in 2018.
On December 13th, 2019, PCO captured the ROH World Championship, just 17 days shy of his 52nd birthday.
Ouellet is still actively wrestling for Ring Of Honor.
Rick Rude: A Ravishing Man with a Tragic End
“He refused to budge.”
Rick Rude was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime kind of wrestler. He went by the nickname “Ravishing” — and rightfully so. He had a solid moveset, great looks, and unbridled arrogance with the in-ring skill to back it up. He played hard in the ring but even harder out of it.
Mr Perfect Curt Hennig – A Great Life with an Unfortunate End
On camera, Curt Hennig was arrogant, and he backed up his Mr. Perfect persona brilliantly. However, outside of the ring, it was a different story.
Doink The Clown – A Troubled Life For the Man Behind the Paint
Doink the Clown found fame in early 1990s WWE, but there was, unfortunately, trouble along the way for Matt Borne, the man behind the paint.
Secret Life and Tragic Passing of WWE Wrestler “Crush” Brian Adams
Hailing from Kona, Hawaii, “Crush” Brian Adams was a dominant force who underwent many striking transformations over his 17-year career.
After retiring from the ring, he worked as a bodyguard for “Macho Man” Randy Savage and was excited about opening a fitness spa alongside Marc Mero in Florida. Instead, sadly, tragedy struck.
Owen Hart’s Death: What Really Happened, From Those There
VINCE McMAHON: “Earlier that day, I was shocked and surprised by what Owen said.”
On May 23rd, 1999, the wrestling world mourned the loss of Owen Hart. People behind the scenes on this unthinkable day reflect on the tragedy, answering the all-important questions.
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